Quinn didn't expect guests when she was just about to turn in for the night. Dressed in her night gown, the covers already warm, a servant rudely interrupted her as she reached over to blow out the candle.
"Miss Quinn," her servant had every right to be timid in her approach. Quinn glared at her as coldly as she could manage. "There's someone here to see you."
"Who on earth could be seeing me at this time of night?!" She demanded. "Tell them to come back in the morning like decent people."
"Miss, it's Lady Santana Lopez. She insists…" Quinn jumped out of bed hearing Santana's name. Why would Santana be there unless something had gone terribly wrong. Immediately her mind went to her unborn child. Had Santana said something? Her mind reeled with a dozen negative possibilities, but nothing prepared her for actually seeing Santana.
She had clearly walked the entire way. Her clothes were soaked and caked in mud, her hair was a mess, and her eyes were puffy, like she had cried for hours. Brittany clung to her arm, like she was the only thing keeping Santana from falling over on the spot. Seeing her in that state made Quinn's blood run cold and she pulled them outside, off to the side where prying eyes and ears could not see or hear them.
"What has happened to you?" Quinn demanded, less so out of concern for Santana than needing to know what her next step would be. Santana just shivered in place, and Brittany's grip on her tightened, as if to keep her there. "Santana…"
"Her father threw her out." Fresh tears spilled from Santana's eyes when she heard the truth come out of Brittany's mouth. "He...he discovered us together and threw both of us out." Quinn's brain swam, and she felt as though she'd been thrown from a horse.
"Threw you...when are you allowed back? Did he speak of this to anyone…?"
"We are never to return." Santana choked. "He disowned me, I am no longer…" She returned to simply shaking in Brittany's arms. Quinn said nothing but her mind felt like a storm. If the Duke had thrown her own, and had disowned her, she would not have a title, she would not marry the king. And she would not be able to help her anymore. Her mind went to the child developing in her belly. The would not be able to save her like she needed.
"Please, Miss Quinn, help us. We are cold, and weary, and we need a place to stay, just for a little while." Brittany pleaded. Quinn's lips trembled when she opened them to speak again.
"Get out." She hissed. Brittany and Santana's head shot up. "Get away from my estate."
"Quinn, why are you doing this?" Santana demanded.
"You've nothing for me, nothing for my child. Do you think my father will allow two girls worth nothing to sleep under his roof, eat and drink his food and water? Get out. You've no use to me anymore!" She threw her arms out and shoved the two of them back.
"Quinn, you ungrateful little…"
"Ungrateful? I've kept your sin to myself, I've not breathed a word of it to anyone. And this is how you repay me? You've only thought of yourself, did you not understand what was at stake? I have a child in me, Santana. And the country needed you leading our sad excuse for a king." She pushed them again, until they were out in the rain. "Get out and never come here again." Tears pricked at her eyes and she ran back inside. The doors slammed behind her, resoundingly shutting their only option away.
"You whore!" Santana screamed and Brittany did her best to rein her in. Santana continued to scream obscenities as Brittany led her away.
"She has already caused us so much grief, and this is how she repays us?!" Santana yelled. Brittany coaxed her down with a kiss to the lips and Santana remembered herself again.
"What do we do now?" Santana whispered her eyes brimming with fear. Brittany kissed her brow, and her hands, and held her tightly.
"I don't know."
Quinn flew into a rage when she entered her bedroom. She took the nearest cup and threw it against the wall where it shattered to pieces. Her servants immediately rushed in.
"OUT!" She screamed and they backed away quickly, leaving her alone to her thoughts. Anger and panic flooded her body, and she held her hand to her stomach. She wondered if God hated her, and wanted to see her suffer as much as possible. She curled up in her bed. It wouldn't be long before her belly swelled to the point where her parents would notice, and could not mistake it for anything but what it was. How many months had it been? Two? She could not say for certain.
She folded the blankets over her head and sighed. What would she do now? Would she try her hand again in marriage? Her thoughts took form. If Santana was no longer to marry the King, perhaps she once again had her chance. She prayed quietly, in hopes that she would succeed this time. It was her last hope.
They walked all night, and most of the day. Their clothes barely held their original color, so caked with mud they were. Santana let Brittany lead her, their hands firmly clasped together. She did not know how far they walked, only that her feet stung until she had to remove her shoes. She forgot how cold it was, and she forgot how tired she grew. Her only thought was that of her father, telling her that he had no daughter, and yelling for her never to return.
She never thought that her father would ever say those words to her. Chills ran up her spine when she remembered her mother's hatred behind his voice. He had not been the same, it was like he had been possessed since her death.
"Santana, we're here." Brittany whispered quietly. Santana looked up, jolted out of her thoughts, and away from her father's glare. She took in her surroundings, and memory slowly filled her mind. She knew this place, she knew the houses, and the little cobble path.
"Brittany, this is…"
"This is where I lived before I went back with you." She replied with a smile. "I'm hoping...I'm hoping that no one has moved in, that we still have a home." We. The word brought surprising warmth into Santana's chest. She held Brittany's hand a little tighter.
"Yes, I hope we do."
As they approached the door, Santana grabbed a hold of Brittany's arm tightly.
"Brittany, what if your landlord recognizes me? I came here once, I spoke with him. I-I did not give my name, and it was brief..." Brittany urged her into silence, though her own heart pounded at the thought. She could only imagine the chaos she would cause if the rest of the town found out that she was harboring a disgraced noblewoman.
"It will be alright. His memory comes and goes, and…" She loosened Santana's hair more, until it cascaded over her shoulders, messy from the rain. "In this state you hardly look like the Santana I once knew." The words stung, even though Brittany did not mean for it to. She kissed Santana quickly on the lips, and they approached the door again.
She didn't realize how nervous she was until she'd knocked three times on her landlord's door and no one answered. She wondered if he had left, if no one lived there anymore. She brought her hand up to knock one more time when the door opened.
"What do you want?" She found her breath again when she saw his familiar, white and wispy bearded face glaring up at her. His expression changed immediately when he saw her face.
"Brittany Pierce, as I live and breathe." He reaches out feebly and clasps her arms.
"It's good to see you again. Did you get the letters I sent?" She asked.
"Yes, I did. How have you fared?" He asked. "Oh, come in, come in." He motioned for the two of them to enter. His eyes lingered on Santana and Brittany's breath caught in her throat. Would he recognize her? His expression registered confusion, but not recognition, like she was someone plucked from a distant memory. She scanned Santana up and down. Covered in mud, her otherwise expensive clothing looked no better that something she picked up off the side of the road.
"This is my very dear friend, Santana." Brittany interjected before he could ask. "We used to work together." He looked her up and down and a few seconds seemed to stretch on.
"Ah, I see, it is a pleasure to meet you." He stuck his hand out and took Santana's in his own. Brittany breathed a little easier once they shook hands. "We, ah, we have a favor to ask."
"Tell me, I will see what I can do." He said in earnest. "You've been kind to a lonely old man in his last years of life, I will do what I can to help you in return."
"Both of us lost our jobs, working at the estate, and we need a place to stay. I would like my old room back." Brittany blurted. "If...if that is no one else has occupied it." The old man blinked and burst into laughter.
"Is that all?" He asked. "My, no one has lived there since you left. No one has inquired at all. Of course you may have it back." Relief and joy spread throughout Brittany's body, and the cast a glance over at Santana. She could see her Mistress relax as well.
"You'll be paying a little more if your friend is staying with you." He says, nodding towards Santana.
"Of course." Brittany responds quickly.
"And our original agreement still stands. You'll keep this old fool company a few hours a day when you cook my meals."
"You should get a wife for that." Brittany chides and he laughs a loud, nearly toothless smile.
"And you should get a husband, both of you." She smiles back at him, and throws a knowing look Santana's way. They had no need for such things.
Puck awoke to the sound of the barn door swinging open. He scrambled to his feet, pieces of straw sticking to his clothing as he hurried down below. The stable master rushed to his desk and began throwing everything into his cloth sack, paper, clothes, anything of minor value he could manage.
"What are you doing?" Puck demanded and the stable master whirled on him, nearly jumping out of his skin when he heard Puck's voice.
"Are you going somewhere?" Puck demanded.
"Everyone is." The stable master replied, turning back around and continuing. "The Duke has lost his mind, and we're not stupid enough to stay."
"He's thrown his own daughter out. He's drunk and violent. Stay if you want, but I know when to leave when given the chance." Thrown his daughter… Puck's head jerked towards the estate. He caught a glimpse of a few servants leaving with bags in their hands. Santana…? And then, never too far from Santana even in another's thoughts, Brittany!
"Did Brittany Pierce leave as well?" Puck demanded.
"I did not see her, though I did not look." The stable master shouldered his bag and faced Puck. "Were I you, I would not linger. The estate, this damned country isn't what it used to be. War festers under the surface, and I doubt anyone found on this premise will be given the freedom to walk away." He clapped Puck on the shoulder and left the barn. Puck gazed at the house, his heart racing. If Santana had been cast out, Brittany was surely with her.
His first instinct was to seek out Noel. He found her still in the kitchen, her face a pale mask of fear, but diligently cleaning the counters.
"Noel." He hissed. Noel turned to him, and immediately pulled him away. "What is happening around here?"
"Everyone is leaving." Noel hissed as she shoved him into the pantry. "I'm sure you've heard, the Duke cast away his own daughter. Threw her out into the streets."
"Why?" Puck demanded, but he assumed the worst.
"No one knows why, he was ranting and raving. He threw her and Brittany out last night, and he hasn't come out of his room since. He struck his own valet."
"Why are you still here?" Puck demanded.
"Where else would I go?" Noel asked. "Some of us have family, but I have no one, I have nothing but my duties here."
"The Duke sounds unwell." His mind only thought of Brittany's well being, and he ran his fingers through his short hair. "Do you have any idea where they went?" Noel shook her head. Outside, something clattered on the ground, making both of them jump. Noel touched his shoulder.
"I must go. If we are to maintain some sort of order…"
"Order?" Puck grabbed her arm. "The Duke has clearly lost his mind."
"He is a good man, and he has been good to us." Noel snapped. "And it is our duty to help him reclaim his mind for as long as we are employed." She swung the door open and left Puck alone amongst the potatoes and carrots.
This was far more terrifying than ruling a country, Finn decided as his carriage pulled up to the front gates of the small Berry estate, complete with full escort. Surely the mere sight of his royal guards was enough to incite panic. But a hand closed around his and he looked to his side where Rachel's comforting smile gave him courage.
And after all, who could refuse a king?
Her father was already out the door, closely followed by his valet by the time Finn even stepped out of the carriage.
"Your Majesty!" They immediately bowed and bent on one knee.
"Please, no, get up." He pleaded.
"To what…" He stood, and began when he saw Rachel exit the carriage as well. His concern turned into pure panic as he looked from the king to his own daughter. "What has she done? Please forgive her, whatever…"
"Let us go inside. We can talk more there." Finn suggested, gesturing towards the small house. He felt Rachel squeeze his arm lightly, and he threw her a lopsided smile to let her know things were going to be alright.
Her house was large by most standards, but Finn found it quaint. He ducked his head going in through the door, and they quickly led him to the dining hall, a fraction of the size he was used to seeing.
"Please forgive me, Your Majesty, had I known you were coming, I would have prepared something more suitable. I'll have the cook prepare some sandwiches immediately." Lord Berry apologized. Finn put up his hands and seated himself.
"Please don't trouble yourself on my account." He begged. "I'm more than comfortable, and I had breakfast not to long ago. Some tea, however." Lord Berry motioned for a servant to go fetch tea, and the guards shut the door behind them. Rachel fidgeted in her place and Finn cleared his throat.
"I supposed I should get to the point, as to why I'm here. It's a very delicate matter, and I'm hoping…"
"Finn and I wish to be married!" Rachel blurted, unable to contain her happiness any longer. The room went silent, and Lord Berry stared blankly at his daughter. Finn coughed, for lack of anything to say now that Rachel had done it for him. Lord Berry turned his head very slowly to look at the king.
"Your Majesty, I do not dare ask if she speaks the truth." He whispered. His hands shook as they came to a rest on the table. Finn could not stop himself from smiling as he looked over at Rachel.
"It is. I am….I am in love with your daughter, Lord Berry, and I've come here today to ask for her hand in marriage." It looked like Lord Berry was about to keel over with this announcement, and he leaned heavily on the table.
"Yes." Finn proudly responded.
"Marriage, a king, to my daughter." He suddenly broke into a smile and clapped his hands together. "Your Majesty, even could I disapprove, I would not. I am sure my daughter will protest, but I must tell you that she spoke very fondly of you these past few years. I long suspected that her affections went beyond simple admiration, and I've never seen her so happy than she is when speaking about you." Hearing these words made Finn's smile grow and his heart swell.
"Father…" Rachel blushed.
"But, Your Majesty, if I may say so myself. It is common knowledge that you are betrothed to another, that you are intending to wed the Lady Santana Lopez." Finn's face fell, as did Rachel's at the mention of Santana's name.
"Yes." Finn began very carefully. "It was in my intent. However, I did not know the extent of my feeling for your daughter then. I understand that I have been promised, and while it pains me to do so, I also mean to break off my betrothal." He gazed once more into Rachel's eyes. "I could not bear to be with anyone else." Tears brimmed in Lord Berry's eyes, in all of his wildest dreams, he did not think that the king would fall in love and marry his own daughter.
"Of course I give my blessing." He said, standing. He clasped Finn's hand in his own, and the deed was done.
Santana slept most of the day. Brittany washed and hung their dirty clothes out to dry while she did. She sat next to Santana, and wondered how exhausted she must be to be sleeping on a dusty, hard mattress. She looked at her small home. Hardly anything had changed since she left. Her landlord must not have had anyone else stay there. She made a mental list of what she needed to do. They needed to eat, so she needed once again to find a place to work. She didn't dream of making Santana lift a finger, but she silently acknowledged that eventually, she must to keep them both fed, sheltered, and clothed. But as long as she could, she would make sure Santana lived comfortably.
It was late in the evening when Santana awoke again. She sat up, shivering and Brittany immediately went to her, her arms holding her close while flames kindled in the fireplace. Santana rubbed her eyes and touched her hair, then let her eyes focus until she knew for certain that it had not been just a bad dream. What little hope in her eyes died when she saw her surroundings.
"I had thought…" She began and then trailed off. Brittany quickly went over to the fireplace and retrieved a loaf of bread and soup she'd been warming. It was all she could buy with the various bits of clothes she'd pawned off, including her shoes.
"Eat." Brittany said, shoving the bowl in Santana's hand. Santana ate automatically, hardly tasting it, though there was little to taste. "Santana, your father," Santana flinched hearing those words. "Surely, he does not mean what he said." The image of her father's cold eyes as he regarded her turned her already empty appetite. She set both the bowl and the bread down.
"You saw how he looked at me." Santana whispered. "He meant it."
"Perhaps now, yes. His anger blinds him. But write to him in a month, and I guarantee he will respond, and apologize. You are his only kin." Santana leaned against Brittany and took comfort in the solid way she held her.
"I hope you are right." She sighed. Brittany picked up the food from Santana's lap and forced it back into her hands.
"Eat, Mistress." She insisted, and Santana laughed pitifully.
"We're equals now, Brittany, don't you know?" Her own stomach growled, and she fixed a small portion for herself. As she sat back down, Santana turned her head and kissed Brittany's hand. In some ways, this was what she wanted. She wanted a life with Santana, where they could be like this without prying eyes and ears. And still, it was as far from what she imagined as possible.
They woke in each other's embrace, though Santana started several times over the long night and each time Brittany would coax her back onto the bed, and still her tremors with kisses and words until Santana fell back asleep again. The ordeal tired her out, but still she rose when the first rays of light shone through the window, signalling the beginning of her, of their new life. She stood slowly and carefully, so as not to wake her Mistress. She hurried downstairs to make breakfast, and it was as if she had never left. He greeted her warmly, asked her how things were and she responded positively.
"You know, that little patch of land out back, it's still yours if you still want it." He said between bites of bread and stew. She did not look forward to seeing her neglected garden. It would take at least another season for her to start growing flowers again. She would need to find income elsewhere, perhaps at the town tailor's again, if he had not given the job to someone else. She thanked him, and went outside to inspect the damage.
Weeds covered most of the patch, though a few of her flowers had managed to survive the fray and they poked out through the vines, begging to be taken care of again. She pulled at the vines and excess flora, freeing a patch of carnations. She sighed and knelt by her poor garden. It had been her little reminder of Santana, of the time they spent in the garden on her estate.
"Brittany?" Brittany turned her head to see Santana walking towards her, a blanket wrapped around her body.
"Was this your garden?" Santana asked, kneeling beside her. Brittany looked at it sadly.
"You don't have to call me that anymore." Santana noted.
"Sorry, Miss. It will be hard for me to not call you that." Brittany smiled.
"Santana will do."
"Yes, Miss." Brittany teased. Santana turned the soil over in her hand, crumbling the larger pieces between her fingers.
"We'll have to get this garden blooming again." Santana said. "You used to sell flowers, back when you lived here, right?" Brittany nodded quietly. "I know nothing of gardening. You will have to show me."
"Miss, Santana, I wouldn't dare ask you to work." Santana smiled softly, and took her hands in her own.
"Brittany, we're in this together."
"Two women must be in need of a man to help out." The two of them jumped when they heard a familiar voice from behind them. They turned their heads just in time to see Puck approach them, a smile plastered on his face. "I've finally found you two."
"Puck!" Brittany stood on her feet and threw her arms around him. Santana looked away, ashamed that he had to see her in such a state. He set Brittany down with a laugh, and then reached out to Santana.
"It's good to see that you are safe." He said earnestly. Santana's eyes flicked up at him gratefully, though shame still burned brightly on her cheeks.
"How did you find us?" Brittany asked.
"You told me, remember?" Puck replied. "When you first returned, you told me of this town, where it was. It certainly took me all night to find you. And here I am." He gestured to himself. "Can't leave two ladies in distress, can I?"
"We're doing just fine." Brittany lied, though it was clear by the blank look in Santana's eyes that it was far from the case. Puck put his arm around Brittany and drew her in. His hand reached out and grasped Santana's.
"I am truly sorry about what happened." He whispered.
"As am I." Puck held onto both of their hands.
"You two are as close to family as I will ever have. I am here to help. It will be far easier for a man to find work than you two." Santana's ears perked when she heard the word family. Her eyes lifted and met Puck's and then rested on Brittany's. Family.
"Santana, what do you think?" She asked. Puck squeezed her hand, and there was something about the roughness of his skin against hers that reminded her of her father's hands. Family.
"Of course. I, we would be more than happy to have you. In truth, it is good to see more than one friendly, familiar face." Santana replied. She'd suffered betrayal too much this past day, from her father and Quinn. She couldn't afford to turn away help when she most needed it. And...family...she could begin to rebuild what she had lost.